Star Fox Zero preview, Shigeru Miyamoto interview
After a middling debut at 2014’s Electronic Entertainment Expo and a delay from the original November 2015 release date, Star Fox Zero is finally ready to take flight on April 22. Co-developed with Bayonetta developer Platinum Games, the Wii U-exclusive space shooter returns hero Fox McCloud and his peppy squad of anthropomorphic animal sidekicks to the Lylat system, which they must defend against an evil empire.
The game takes full advantage of the Wii U’s Gamepad, offering a two-screen experience that has the player looking from the TV to the controller’s screen. The unique control scheme that proved divisive at its unveiling uses the analog stick to control the ship, and the Gamepad’s gyroscope is used to fire. Fox’s trademark Arwing ship can transform into several different forms, one of which was salvaged from the unreleased Super Nintendo Star Fox 2, which was canceled in 1995.
EW recently had the chance to play a hands-on demo of the game and talk with legendary Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto (via translator Bill Trinen) about the decision to cancel Star Fox 2, using all the capabilities of the Wii U Gamepad, returning to the Star Fox universe, working with Platinum Games and what he hopes Zero will accomplish as one of the last big Wii U titles.
EW: I thought it was really interesting that in the mid 90s, Star Fox 2 was basically developed and almost finished, and then it was canceled. I know it was right before the N64 was coming out, but when a game is so far along and it’s canceled, what kind of thinking went into that?
Shigeru Miyamoto: It wasn’t a very deep reasoning for why we decided to cancel the project. Part of it was that the new hardware was coming out, but the other was that what we were trying to do with the capabilities of the FX chip in that game, we simply couldn’t get the game to run at a suitable frame rate.
I noticed the Walker mode for the Arwing [Fox’s ship], which seems to have been picked up from that game. Was anything else from Star Fox 2, or from maybe the N64 version, that got cut and then added back into this new one?
We actually took the strategic elements that were in Star Fox 2 and applied those to the DS Star Fox game, Star Fox Command. Those came to life in that game, but we still had, as you noted, the Walker, which was from some more of the action elements of that game that we really wanted to bring to life in Star Fox Zero this time.
Then, in terms of other ideas, rather than bringing other ideas from past games, for us the bigger focus was really on using the two screens and having the aiming controls and the shooting controls independent of one another.
A lot of the more recent Wii U games have been backing away from using all the capabilities of the Gamepad. A lot of it is mostly second-screen play [where players can play on the Gamepad screen without the TV], so I was wondering why were you pushing to use all of the capabilities for this when a lot of games have backed off?
For us, obviously there’s a lot of other companies that are making hardware, and a lot of other companies that are making software, and certainly there’s competition among all of the hardware makers and software makers. But for Nintendo what’s important to us is to always be doing something that’s unique, that no one else can do. That’s the approach that we take in designing our hardware, so when we are designing our software as well, we really want to leverage what makes what’s unique about the hardware and how we can apply that in a way that’s unique for game play.
The other point that’s very important for Nintendo is that we want our hardware to be the one that people connect to the TV in the living room, so we want the games to be fun not just for the people who are playing them, but for the other family members in the living room who are watching on the TV set. With this style of two-screen gameplay with Star Fox, it makes for a very fun visual to watch on the TV screen, and similarly with something like Mario Maker, it’s very fun to have multiple people in the living room, playing and watching together at the same time.
Fox McCloud has stayed around a lot because he’s so popular in Smash Brothers, but Star Fox skipped the Wii generation. Why is now the right time to bring the Star Fox franchise back in a major release?
This time it was a little bit less of really focused in on making a new Star Fox game and how we would do the controls for that game. Instead, we started with experiments with flying a radio-controlled airplane on the TV screen, then having a cockpit view of the radio-controlled airplane on the Gamepad. As we did various experiments with that we realized, “Oh, this style of play would be very well suited to Star Fox.” That was how the experiments began, then we began looking at separating the flight controls from the aiming controls, and found that it made for a better Star Fox experience.
We, of course, started with the 3DS version of Star Fox 64. In that game we added the ability to have the aiming using the motion controls. That was a fairly straightforward approach to the game there. This time, by having the two screens coupled with the aiming and the flight controls separately, what that meant is that we had an ability to create really cool cinematic sequences on the TV that you could still play through, and fly using the cockpit screen on the Gamepad. It also gave us an ability to make a more cinematic experience that’s still interactive.
I’m a big fan of Platinum Games, I think they did two of the best Wii U games in Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2, but what made the connection with Platinum right to be co-developing this game? What was it about them?
The main reason was that Platinum Games is located in Osaka, so they’re very close to us, but also when they were working on Bayonetta 2 they came to us and said, “We want to put Star Fox into Bayonetta 2.” We learned that they actually wanted to make a Star Fox game, so that was a big reason. We actually set up a small Platinum Games office inside Nintendo, so the staff could work together. Then, of course, we would go back and forth between Osaka and Kyoto working on the project.
The Wii U generation is winding down. We’ve got NX stuff coming up, hopefully, at E3. So Star Fox Zero is one of Nintendo’s last big first-party games. What do you hope that it accomplishes as one of the last big games for this generation?
I really hope that Star Fox is a game that people will play for a long time. We always want to make our games ones that people will play for a long time, but the hope is that it’ll be the type of game that people will replay and come back to. We’ve put a lot of effort into really designing the levels in a way that it will encourage that re-playability.
We used to see a lot of games in this style that are really about you improving your skills, getting better over time, training through the levels, learning the patterns, and mastering them. Gradually, as games have gotten more expansive, they’ve focused on many other elements of gameplay or production values. You don’t see that much of that style of game anymore. My hope is that, even for young kids that are coming into games today, that they can experience a game like this. It’s a gameplay style that I feel has bones to it. You can really get into it and go deep. The satisfaction that you get from that style of mastering and improving over time is something that I want younger kids to experience as well.
Star Fox Zero will be available Aprill 22 bundled with Star Fox Guard as a two-disc set for $59.99. You can read about Guard and why Miyamoto thinks it’s a great game to play with the family here.